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St. Philip's Early College High School Part Of Growing Trend

Joey Palacios
TPR News
The Bowden Building at St. Philip's College was the first on campus.

The early college high school movement is growing exponentially in Texas. There are more than 60 in the state and five are opening this fall in San Antonio alone. One of them is the St. Philip’s early college high school with SAISD.

Outside the Bowden Building in the middle of the St. Philips campus, teachers dressed in bright-orange t-shirts greet the incoming freshmen, who are wearing either white or blue. It’s the first day of class for the new school and the students are being welcomed by SAISD Superintendent Sylvester Perez.

“You know as well as I do that you are here for a reason. You are here because you are focused on not only getting your high school diploma but also getting you associate degree or a certification of some kind out of St. Philip’s College,” Perez told the group of 100 students.

Students at early college high schools can earn up to 60 hours of college credit or even an associate degree by the time they receive their high school diploma.

“In order to get the two years they do what we call ‘dual credit’ where they get high school courses and the high school courses count towards some of the college courses,” said Derek Thomas, the principal of the St. Philip’s school.

There are three degrees to choose from and liberal arts is one.

“This year students can get a Associate of Applied Science in Automotive Technology or either security assurance for the technology field,” Thomas said.

Then it’s up to the student to decide where to go for their bachelor's degree. Destiny Perez, a student, said she was drawn to the school after her aunt graduated from the Travis early college high school last year.

“This is her senior year (at Texas A&M Corpus Christi) and she’s only been in college for two years and she’s already done and others still have to do their next two years,” Perez said. “I figured if I go to another school like her I will be already done and I’ll know what to do in college.”

Her goal is to major in public relations, and with a liberal arts associate degree from the school in 2018, she’ll have her basics like English and algebra out of the way.

School starts

The school day has begun and attendance is being taken. For the first semester the students take advanced high school classes. All off the teachers, for the school to receive it’s accreditation, must have master's degrees, which are required to teach college courses. Michael Balog is the social studies instructor.

“We’re teaching pre-AP level, basic ninth grade algebra, Spanish,” he said. “ Then next spring they’re going to have the opportunity to take some college classes on campus so that’s what makes it different than your regular high school.”

St. Philip’s gave the first floor of the Bowden Building, which was the first structure on campus, to SAISD for it’s classes and will not be getting new building for the foreseeable future. For now the school only has ninth graders and will add a new level of 100 students every year.

“As freshman move, and by the time they reach their junior and senior classes, they will no longer be in this building. They will be integrated and attending classes throughout the campus,” said Adena Williams Loston, president of St. Philip’s College. “The pressure on this building will diminish each year because the sophomore class will taking more and more classes using our campus classrooms.”

St. Philip’s is not new to the early college high school game. It has already had two partnerships before this.

“This is year five for Comal ISD, we have had that for five years," Loston said. "We actually graduated our first group of students this past May. We had 26 students who graduated with their college degree before their high school graduation from Comal. We also started a new early college high school with Seguin ISD."

The Alamo Colleges have around ten early college partnerships. Palo Alto College is opening four this year.

SAISD’s first early college high school, Travis at San Antonio College, which started in 2008, has produced about 70 graduates in it’s first classes; at least 60% of the 2014 class obtained an associate degree and about 90% are heading to a four-year school.

Joey Palacios can be reached atJoey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules